avocado & oat cookies

Being good to yourself is important, but so is being kind to yourself.
Being good to yourself is important, but so is being kind to yourself.

Is it possible to have your cookie and eat it too?

I’m so glad you asked. Summer is well and truly here, bringing the whole healthy eating thing into glaringly sharp changing-room-lights focus. Not just because of the amount of skin we’re starting to show (a pretty terrifying prospect all on its own), but also because the heat makes it so much harder to feel good if we’re eating badly.

There are lots of differing opinions out there as to what constitutes ‘eating badly’, but I think you can’t go too far wrong if you listen to your body. For me, that means I physically feel pretty awful if I’m on a constant diet of deep-fried foods, fatty meats, sugary drinks and refined carbs (basically all the fun stuff). But at the same time, mentally I feel pretty awful if I’m restricted to lettuce leaves and a wistful, longing look at the wine list.

So is there a balance? I think so. I feel pretty good and fairly sane if I’m eating complex carbohydrates like brown rice and wholemeal bread, a smattering of lean meats, loads of vegetables and the occasional reality check of eating whatever I want to.

avocado and oat cookies
avocado and oat cookies

Which brings us nicely to today’s recipe. It’s basically an adapted Anzac biscuit recipe, made with wholemeal flour, a reduced amount of sugar and without butter. Once again, I’ve gone with avocados in place of butter – honestly I think I ought to take out shares in an avocado farm – which lends the cookies a brilliant green tinge. Take a deep breath, and think of pistachios.

The final product has a dense chewiness (from the oats and coconut) amidst a soft, moist, cake-like texture (from the flour and avocados). They hit a fine balance of sweet-but-not-too-sweet – I personally think that they could go either way and be served alongside a coffee or on a cheese plate. Without strongly-flavoured ingredients, you do get a sense of the avocado, so if that worries you you might like to add a handful of chocolate chips, a mashed banana, or some cheese and tomato.

These cookies hold their shape, so make sure you're happy with how they go into the oven.
These cookies hold their shape, so make sure you’re happy with how they go into the oven.

Avocado and oat cookies (makes 12)
2 small ripe avocados
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup wholemeal flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar
¾ cup (60g) desiccated coconut
¹⁄3 cup golden syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons hot water

Preheat your oven to 165 degrees. While heating, you can toast the oats lightly while you get on with the cookies.

Place the flour, sugar and coconut into a large bowl.

Mash the avocados finely.

Place the golden syrup in a pot and heat gently, then add the avocados and stir until combined. This produces a slightly alarming-looking green mixture which may cause you to lose faith.

Add the hot water to the baking soda and then pour into the pot. The green mixture will turn into a frothy green concoction. At this stage, it would be perfectly natural for you to wonder what kind of crazy recipe you’re following.

Add the toasted oats to the flour and then pour in the wet ingredients and mix.

Shape into 7cm discs and flatten. Without butter, these cookies don’t spread at all so you can afford to place them quite closely together.

Bake at 165 degrees for 15 minutes and cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.


gluten-free lemon cake

gluten free lemon drizzle cake
I confess: I really only got into baking because of the pretty pictures.

I’ve always had this endless enthusiasm for potatoes. Where others would look longingly towards the dessert section, I would revel in the salty crunch of fries. Crisps filled my dreams at night and roasties haunted my days. My comfort was a sea of creamy mash, my excitement a bed of rosti. Oh yes. Leave no chip behind.

Was it inevitable, then, that I’d eventually find a way to incorporate potato into everything, including a lemon cake? I’ll admit I was slightly dubious when I found this recipe for a gluten-free lemon cake – sorry, you want me to put what in it? – but allow my own incredulity to reassure you: it sounds completely batty, but it works. Potato is a friend that keeps the cake light and reassuringly moist and doesn’t get in the way of the lemon at all.

It's lemon cake with a surprising helper: the humble potato.
The humble potato gives this lemon cake a light moistness.

Lemon, for me, is tremendously exciting. Its ability to enhance and be enhanced by the contrast of salt or sweet, to lurk pleasantly in the background or take centre stage as the main flavour, to hold fragrant oils and piquant juice in the one fruit – well, it’s kind of amazing. Somehow the moreish tang of lemon tempered with sugar dangles you precariously between the worlds of sharp and sweet, each clamouring for attention and yet working together in a curious harmony.

And harmonious is just how this cake turns out. It’s such a surprising and unexpected marriage between lemon and potato, but it’s a joyous celebration nevertheless and you get to be good to your coeliac and IBS friends.

Share the lemony love this summer (with a tall glass of Pimms, naturally).

Grab a fork. I promise you won't taste the potato.
Grab a fork. I promise you won’t taste the potato.

Gluten-free lemon cake
For the cake:
200g butter, softened
200g golden caster sugar
4 eggs
175g ground almonds
250g mashed potatoes (cooled)
zest of 3 lemons
2 tsp baking powder

To drizzle:
4 tbsp sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius, and grease a 20cm cake tin.

Beat the butter and sugar together and then add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg.

Add the baking powder and mix, then fold in the mashed potato, almonds and lemon zest.

Pour into the cake tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until the skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Put the cake on the serving tray before you drizzle, and serve with double cream.

anzac biscuits

The Anzac biscuit - a national culinary treasure.
The Anzac biscuit – a national culinary treasure.

Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the battle at Gallipoli during the First World War, where many soldiers died during the campaign to capture Constantinople. It is said that Australia’s national identity, the ‘Anzac spirit’, was forged during that brutal campaign – a defining moment for a relatively new nation. It is a day of solemnity where we think about our troops, the fallen and the sacrifices they and their families have made to keep us safe.

Naturally, we also commemorate the day with biscuits.

Crunchy and chewy and golden and delicious.
Crunchy and chewy and golden and delicious.

It might seem strange that a day that inspires so much thoughtfulness, sadness and gratitude in Aussies should be accompanied by something as irreverent as a biscuit – but in some ways, there’s nothing more fitting.

Made with rolled oats, flour, coconut and golden syrup (and egg-free to ensure no spoilage on the long journey to the troops), Anzac biscuits are a national culinary symbol right up there with lamingtons and Tim Tams.

Oh, and you can’t call an Anzac biscuit a cookie. We’re a little touchy about that.

Fresh from the oven
Fresh from the oven

Wholemeal flour works really well in this recipe because the biscuits are already grainy and slightly nutty, so I substituted the whole lot. Rumour has it that you can actually make quite a few substitutions without affecting the final taste too much, but for the original crunchy-on-the-outside, slightly-chewy-on-the-inside biscuits I love this recipe.

Anzac biscuits (makes 24)
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup wholemeal flour
²⁄3 cup (150g) caster sugar
¾ cup (60g) desiccated coconut
¹⁄3 cup golden syrup
125g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons hot water

Mix the oats, flour, sugar and coconut together in a large bowl.

Place the butter and golden syrup over a low heat until melted.

Mix the baking soda with the hot water and then add to the butter/syrup mixture. It will froth up.

Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix well.

Oats are delicious!
Oats are delicious!

Shape into flat discs of about 5cm across – they spread quite far, so you need to give them a lot of room on the baking sheet.

Bake at 165 degrees celcius for around 10 minutes, until golden. They’ll come out soft, but let them cool for five minutes on the tray before transferring them to a wire rack and they’ll crisp up nicely.

chocolate chip hot cross buns

A delightful little Easter treat.
A delightful little Easter treat.

It’s the end of the Lenten season, which always means hot cross buns.

When I was little, I liked the delicately spiced buns, but hated the sickly sweet hit of the raisins and currants. It would take me ages to eat one because I would have to pull it apart, picking out the fruit and eating the bread. Occasionally I would get impatient and try to eat too much at once, accidentally biting into a fat, disturbingly squishy saccharine pod or a slightly bitter piece of peel. I would have given up on them altogether, but there’s something very festive and special about the scent of a warm hot cross bun wafting through the house.

Chocolate chip hot cross buns: all fun, no fruity fuss.
Chocolate chip hot cross buns: all fun, no fruity fuss.

It was a glorious day when Baker’s Delight introduced chocolate chip hot cross buns. To me, it’s the ideal substitute since the cinnamon and chocolate go together perfectly and there’s no unexpected fruit bombs going off where they shouldn’t be.

I’m completely new to making bread, which always makes for a few nerves. I tried my best to tinker with recipes, playing with wholemeal ratios, types of sugar and quantities of butter in an effort to make them healthier, but eventually I found that it’s best not to mess too much with hot cross buns – you just won’t get the same experience. Maybe someday I’ll be comfortable enough with baking to perfect a recipe for wholemeal low-sugar butter-free hot cross buns, but for now I’m going to sit back and enjoy a sweet treat.

Happy Easter!

For who can resist a hot cross bun, still warm from the oven?
For who can resist a hot cross bun, still warm from the oven?

Chocolate chip hot cross buns (makes 12)
For the buns:
1 tablespoon dried yeast
2 tablespoons of honey
100ml warm water
100ml warm milk
450g plain flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
50g caster sugar
1 egg
50g melted butter
200g dark chocolate chips
For the crosses:
50g flour
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
For the glaze:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablepoons water

Dissolve the honey in 100ml hot water and 50ml milk. Make sure the liquid is comfortably hot and add the yeast, covering it with a clean tea towel. Leave for 5 minutes until it forms a good froth on the surface.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, sugar, salt, spices and chocolate chips together in a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

When the yeast mix is ready, pour it into the well with the egg, melted butter and 50ml of warm milk. Mix gradually until it forms a rough dough, then turn it out onto a clean surface.

The rough dough
The rough dough

Knead for about 7 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic.

Watching dough come together is kind of magical.
Watching dough come together is kind of amazing.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a cloth, leaving it in a warm spot in the kitchen. Leave until it doubles in size (takes about an hour).

Take the dough and knead it back to its original size, then cut it into 12 balls. Score the tops in the shape of a cross and place into a deep baking tray lined with baking parchment. Cover and leave for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the crosses by mixing the flour with the water and vanilla. Roll into strips and attach to the top of the balls by wetting them slightly.

Bake at 190 degrees for 20 minutes.

Just before you pull them out of the oven, you can make the glaze by gently heating the sugar and water until it forms a syrup. Brush the buns with the glaze while they’re still warm.

savoury avocado scones

Golden goodness.
Eat them whilst still slightly warm from the oven, with avocado or cream cheese. Bliss.

I’ll be honest: ever since I realised you could substitute avocado for butter in baking quite successfully, I’ve been dreaming of muffins, cakes, loaves and scones.

The only thing that has stopped me from going completely nutty with the cupcake tray is the sugar. I’m not going to get into eating philosophies (there are so many, and they all claim to be backed by some kind of science), but the one thing they all seem to agree on is that limiting refined sugar is probably a Good Idea.

So this week, in order to feel truly smug and virtuous, I went with the savoury option: cheesy tomato and herb scones made with wholemeal flour and avocado.

Pop them in the oven and go and polish your halo.

Cheese and herb scones.
Cheese and herb scones.

Wholemeal Avocado Scones (makes 9 large scones)
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
3 heaped tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 ripe avocados
½ cup milk (soy milk works too)
100g grated mature cheddar (I used low-fat)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp mixed herbs

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and salt, then mix through the herbs and grated cheddar.

In another bowl, mash the avocado thoroughly and add the eggs, milk and tomato paste. Mix (it will look lumpy and disturbing, but don’t worry).

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined. It’s a very wet batter.

Drop scoops of the mix onto baking paper and bake at 200 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

banana and avocado muffins

A new way to use avocados, those versatile darlings.
A new way to use avocados, those versatile darlings.

This one requires a small leap of faith.

Not in the way of ‘here, eat these crickets, they’re really tasty and an excellent source of protein’ or anything, but enough that I ask for your trust as we explore the world of using avocados in baking.

What?! Why would you do that to a delicious avocado? Has the London smog gotten to your brain?

I know, right. And yet there is a point to the madness; avocados are a great substitute for butter. Whereas butter is over 50% saturated fat, avocados contain just 2.1g per 100g. Avocados are high in fibre, a good source of potassium and folic acid, and have no cholesterol.

Go on, get yourself an avocado. I’ll wait.

banana and avocado muffins... with hazelnuts and dark chocolate chips.
Banana and avocado muffins… with hazelnuts and dark chocolate chips.

Even knowing all this, using them in baking can be a bit of a stretch. What if my cake goes a lurid green? What if it tastes strange and salad-like? Should I dump the lot in cornbread with some jalapeños and just have an all-in-one Mexican meal?

Please don’t worry. These muffins are light and moreish; the avocado makes them moist without being greasy. I promise you can’t taste the avocado, and the wholemeal flour means that they also keep you full for a good long time. These muffins are smug, ‘I’m being good but also rather decadent’, win-win muffins.

I have it on my bestie’s authority that avocados are also fantastic in a smoothie – but that is another post for another time.

Light, moist and moreish. You'll just have to trust me on this one.
Light, moist and moreish. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

Banana and avocado muffins
2 small ripe avocados
2 overripe bananas
1 cup sugar (I used about half a cup of golden caster sugar and then two tablespoons of honey)
2 eggs
1 tsp vinegar
6 tablespoons milk
1 cup white flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Nuts and chocolate chips (optional, but who are we kidding)

In a bowl, mash the avocados really, really well. If you leave any lumps you’ll see it in the final product, so be diligent with that fork.

Add the sugar and whisk thoroughly with the avocado.

Add the eggs, milk, baking soda and vinegar and whisk away. The vinegar is there to activate the baking soda and you won’t taste it in the final product. If you don’t have baking soda, just use two teaspoons of baking powder in the next step.

Place the flours and baking powder in a sieve and sift into the bowl, mixing very gently. You don’t want to overmix, so stir until combined.

If you want to have nuts or chocolate in your muffins, now is the time to add them.

Drop the muffin mix into a greased muffin tray (or make pretty tulip cases by pressing greaseproof paper into the tray) and bake at 180 degrees for 35 minutes.

party parcels

It's the party season, and we mean to do it well.
It’s the party season, and we mean to do it well.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, which means one thing: indulgence.

I love the way London does Christmas. It’s cool and crisp outside, cosy and warm inside, and people wander around town wrapped in scarves and beanies, noses pink from the cold and eyes sparkling with the twinkling lights of Oxford Circus and Regent Street.

The Grinchiest Grinch couldn’t fail to be caught up in the magic of this festive time of year.

The sadness at being away from those I love at home and abroad is somewhat tempered by the whirlwind of parties and irresponsible merriment. At any other time, drinking every day would basically render you a functioning alcoholic, but December is the exception: parties are simply the order of the month.

These party parcels are quick and easy to make and impressive to look at. Warm, filling and delightful, they’re perfect for a relaxed gathering – just add mulled wine, good friends and plenty of laughter.

Trio of Party Parcels: ‘Plant, Parma and Pumpkin
Eggplant parcel:
1 square of puff pastry, roughly 12.5-15cm in length
1 slice eggplant, about 7.5mm thick
Half a teaspoon of harissa paste
1 slice mozzarella cheese, about 5mm thick

If it isn’t already done, cut the puff pastry into a square. I used reduced fat ready-rolled puff pastry, but go with what you like.

Cut a square of pastry.
Cut a square of pastry.

Place the eggplant in the centre and top with the harissa paste.

Eggplant and harissa is an amazing combination.
Eggplant and harissa is an amazing combination.

Add the mozzarella.

Eggplant, harissa and mozzarella. It just works.
Eggplant, harissa and mozzarella. It just works.

To form the parcel, take two corners of the parcel and pinch together.

Wrapping the parcel.
Wrapping the parcel.

Crimp hard along the seam, folding over slightly to get a better seal.

Pinch along the seam.
Pinch along the seam.

Fold the other corners up in the same way, crimping as you go.

One party parcel.
One party parcel.

Truthfully, mine sort of popped open in the oven, so if you don’t want this to happen you can prick the pastry with a fork.

Parma parcel:
1 square of puff pastry, roughly 12.5-15cm in length
1 slice Parma ham
1 slice mozzarella cheese, about 5mm thick
1 slice pear, about 5mm thick
4 yellow pickled jalapeño slices

Take the square of pastry, and lay the Parma ham so the bulk sits in the middle and hangs off the side of the pastry square.

Isn't Parma ham delicious?
Isn’t Parma ham delicious?

Place the pear and jalapeños on top, followed by the mozzarella.

Parma, pear, pickles and cheese.
Parma, pear, pickles and cheese.

Wrap the other end of the Parma ham back over the top so it forms a neat package in the middle of your pastry.

Fold as per the eggplant parcel.

Parma party parcel
Parma party parcel

Pumpkin parcel:
1 square of puff pastry, roughly 12.5-15cm in length
1 slice pumpkin, about 5mm thick (I used butternut squash because that’s what I had lying around)
1 tablespoon chilli jam
1 square cheddar cheese (you can use mozzarella again here, but I think cheddar is nicer for the flavour)

Microwave your pumpkin slice for around 30 seconds and allow to cool.

Take the square of pastry, and lay the pumpkin in the middle and top with chilli jam.

Pumpkin and chilli jam.
Pumpkin and chilli jam.

Add the cheese and fold as per the eggplant parcel.

To cook, take a foil-lined tray and brush with a little oil. Place the parcels on top and brush with a beaten egg.

Brush with a beaten egg for a golden coating.
Brush with a beaten egg for a golden coating.

Bake at 180 degrees for 15 minutes, until the cheese turns molten and the pastry is golden.

party parcels - fresh from the oven
Serve hot and fresh.

They explode into a shower of buttery pastry crumbs when you bite into them, so hand out the plates first. Merry Christmas, everyone!

wholemeal banana bread

It's goodness and sweetness combined.
It’s goodness and sweetness combined.

When bananas are so brown they basically blend with the benchtop, it’s time to make banana bread.

On the banana spectrum from sappy green to mushy brown, there’s only a very small window where I like to eat a raw banana, and it makes me feel ridiculous to buy just one at a time. But I could eat banana bread every day of the week and never get tired, so sometimes I buy bananas in bunches to deliberately let them go brown.

Why throw these beauties out when they can bring you so much happiness?
Why throw these beauties out when they can bring you so much happiness?

Walnuts are the traditional nut to add to banana loaves, and with good reason – I love the soft resistance of a walnut in a piece of bread. That being said, banana bread is very forgiving, so if you don’t have walnuts you can use a handful of other nuts, or leave them out altogether.

Wholemeal flour is grainier and heavier than white flour, but that’s also why it’s better for you. Higher in fibre, folate and vitamins, wholemeal flour has a lower glycaemic index and will keep you fuller for longer.

Feeling virtuous never tasted so good.

Wholemeal banana bread
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter – I used Proactiv Light
1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark, firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 medium to large bananas, brown as can be
1/8 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups wholemeal flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts
100g chopped dark chocolate (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a loaf tin with butter, oil or spray.

Take a large bowl and add the butter and brown sugar.

It's a glorious, sandy mess.
Get started with this glorious, sandy mess.

Beat the butter and sugar together. In the tiny kitchen I would just use a spoon and some elbow grease, but with an electric mixer it goes this delicious caramel colour.

Such a glorious caramel colour.
Such a beautiful caramel colour.

Add the vanilla, baking soda, salt and bananas and beat until combined.

Beautiful treacley rivers.
Beautiful treacley rivers.

Add the honey and eggs and beat until combined.

Add the flour, nuts and chocolate, stirring until combined.

Let the mix rest for 10 minutes and then spoon into the loaf tin. Bake for 50 minutes. Cover with foil to prevent excess browning, then bake for another 10 minutes. Stick a toothpick through the centre and if it comes out clean, it’s done.

Is that chocolate I see on the top?
Is that chocolate I see on the top?

Remove from the oven and stand for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and place on a cooling rack.